Ariz. bill aims to change missing persons investigations

Posted: Updated:

PHOENIX -- Thousands of people go missing every year and many are never found, which leaves families in a constant state of the unknown. But Arizona lawmakers are considering a bill that would change the way police approach missing and unidentified persons cases.

At 23 years old, Molly Dattilo had her whole life ahead of her. Her cousin, Amy Dattilo told us, "She excelled in school. She excelled in sports. She was a long-distance runner."

Six weeks after Molly moved to Indianapolis, she vanished. As Amy remembers, "She did not have a proper search until after three weeks after she was missing. It was very, very frustrating. We lost time, we lost evidence I'm sure, of Molly."

Fueled by her frustration, Amy is now on a crusade to change the way missing persons investigations are handled in Arizona.

"We're doing it one state at a time," she said. "Unfortunately, it's not a federal law yet."

House Bill 2169 would standardize missing and unidentified cases. Among the changes, all evidence pertaining to the missing person would be collected in a timely manner.

Unidentified remains would automatically be entered into a national database.

"My greatest fear as a missing persons detective is that my missing person has ended up as a dead person in some small county that didn't collect DNA, didn't get dentals, didn't get all the information that would connect it to my missing persons case," said Phoenix police Detective Stuart Somershoe.

Had such mandates been in place years ago, missing persons like Dang Tang and Tina D'Ambrosio would have been handled much differently.

D'Ambrosio, 34, disappeared in June 1996 from her apartment near 19th and Northern avenues. Tina's mother, now 84 years old, has been haunted ever since.

"She told her doctor she wanted to live to be 100 so she can find out what happened to her daughter," Somershoe said.

Tang disappeared in March 1999. He was last seen at his brother's home near 47th Avenue and Bethany Home Road. His car was found abandoned at Terminal 4 at Sky Harbor Internationa. Airport.

"The processing of that vehicle is where we come to our first problem," Detective Will Andersen said. "They noted what was described to me as a cleaned-up scene. Since that time we've requested a reprocessing of the items of evidence that were taken at that time and that's where we're coming across blood."

Because evidence wasn't processed in a timely manner, Andersen explains, "We basically have to reinvent them in order to get a true idea, an accurate idea, of who Dang Tang was."

As for Amy, she says she'll never give up searching for Molly. "Until we have a body, we don't have the answers."

For all the details about House Bill 2169, go to www.azleg.gov.

Background about the Campaign for the Missing can be found at http://projectjason.org.